For a fantasy player, a Thursday like this is an opportunity to clean out your bench. With only 10 games on the schedule, there's a good chance you might not even have enough active hitters to fill your entire starting lineup. Still, it's all about risk versus reward. It's no big deal getting an 0-for-3 from a batter who might not normally play for you, so it's worth making a few mouse clicks just in case today is the day Jerry Hairston goes 5-for-5 with two home runs. However, when it comes to pitching, you need to play things a lot more closely to the vest, lest you be trying to catch up from that Edwin Jackson-eqsue outing from one of your spot starters for months to come. Fear not, our rankings are here to tell you who to steer clear of, and who to throw on the wall to see if they stick:
Starting pitcher rankings for April 29
Rk.: The author's ranking of that pitcher for that day only. T: Pitcher throws left-handed or right-handed. Opp: The pitcher's opponent for the day. Rating: The starting pitcher's matchup rating -- separate from the author's ranking -- which accounts for past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days), opponent and ballpark. Ratings range from 1-10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. W-L: Pitcher's win-loss record. ERA: Pitcher's earned run average. WHIP: Pitcher's average number of walks plus hits surrendered per inning.
• Adam Wainwright is the leader in the clubhouse today. He's 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA lifetime against the Atlanta Braves. That gives him the nod over Matt Garza, who has pitched nearly as well as Wainwright so far in 2010, but has traditionally struggled against the Kansas City Royals. Garza is 0-4 with a 4.21 lifetime ERA versus the AL Central cellar dwellers.
• Roy Oswalt hasn't been good just when facing the Cincinnati Reds; he's been nearly flawless. Few pitchers have ever posted a 23-1 record against a single opponent, but kudos to Oswalt for that stunning record versus the Reds, completely dwarfing Bronson Arroyo's chances at victory today.
• Ricky Romero is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA against the Oakland Athletics. He'll get the slight nod over A.J. Burnett, who despite a solid 9-2 lifetime mark versus the Baltimore Orioles, has a gaudy 5.23 ERA against the team. Run support doesn't help your fantasy team's WHIP.
• Carl Pavano is 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA lifetime against the Detroit Tigers and has been one of the huge surprises so far in 2010. He's worth a flier today, as is Jair Jurrjens, who despite early struggles does have a 2.14 ERA against the St. Louis Cardinals for his career.
• Warning! Steer clear of Gavin Floyd and his 9.35 ERA against the Texas Rangers. Please ignore Luke Hochevar and his 6.46 ERA facing the Tampa Bay Rays. Don't feed Dontrelle Willis a steady diet of Minnesota Twins' hitters. They've devoured him to the tune of a 7.94 ERA.
Hitter matchup ratings for April 29
Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's past history (three years' worth as well as past 21 days) as well as ballpark factors. "LHB" and "RHB" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively. "Steals" is a base stealing matchup rating, which accounts for the opponent's catchers' ability to gun down opposing base stealers.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays: He has a 1.072 OPS against the current Royals' staff, including 10 home runs. Thursday's starter, Luke Hochevar, has kept Pena in the park, but has served up a .571 batting average.
Orlando Hudson, 2B, Twins: Hudson has a .400 career average against Dontrelle Willis of the Tigers and seven hits in his past four games.
Derrek Lee, 1B, Chicago Cubs: People often forget to check out a hitter's history against the team's closer when considering who to start. Lee has no history versus Ian Kennedy, but is 6-for-12 lifetime against Chad Qualls.
Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston Astros: Berkman has hits in five of six games since he returned to the lineup, and in 47 at-bats against Bronson Arroyo, he's "touched them all" five times to go along with 14 RBIs.
James Loney, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers: Loney has raised his batting average to .310 with a 10-for-30 stretch in the past week, and judging by the ejection for arguing a close pitch on Tuesday, he's seeing the ball incredibly well.
Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves: It's always easy to recommend a sit for a guy batting below the Mendoza Line. Escobar makes it easier to do so thanks to a career 0-for-9 against Adam Wainwright.
Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Speaking of lifetime 0-fers, that's what Wells has on his resume against Justin Duchscherer. Since Wells' hot start, he's hit only one home run since April 17. The early-season glow is fading.
Scott Podsednik, OF, Royals: You can't steal if you don't get on base, and against the Rays' current staff, Pods' .212 lifetime batting average simply doesn't cut the mustard.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals: Stop rolling your eyes. It's a light schedule, so you're probably not benching anyone today, let alone Pujols. We just wanted to point out that of the Braves' pitchers, Jair Jurrjens has handled the "$50 Million Man" better than his teammates, holding him to a .300 slugging percentage.
Baseball Challenge Pick of the Day
Nick Markakis, RF, Orioles: In addition to the .364 batting average during the past week, another appealing factor in Markakis' favor this Thursday is the .314 career mark against A.J. Burnett in 35 at-bats.
Injury list: Out
Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers (15-day DL, right hamstring strain)
Brett Anderson, SP, Athletics (15-day DL, strained flexor tendon)
Jason Hammel, SP, Rockies (15-day DL, strained right groin)
Felipe Lopez, 2B, Cardinals (15-day DL, elbow strain)
Brad Hawpe, OF, Rockies (15-day DL, strained left quadriceps)
Chris Jakubauskas, SP, Pirates (15-day DL, head contusion/concussion)
Vicente Padilla, SP, Dodgers (15-day DL, right forearm soreness)
Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers (15-day DL, strained right calf)
Carlos Guillen, OF, Tigers (15-day DL, strained left hamstring)
Nick Punto, SS, Twins (15-day DL, right hip flexor)
Injury list: Day-to-day
Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins (stiff back)
Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers (hamstring)
Kurt Suzuki, C, Athletics (sore side)
Weatherproof games: Reds at Astros, Athletics at Blue Jays, and Royals at Rays. As a precursor to some weekend rainstorms, a few cities may see some windy weather on Thursday, but other than that, we've got a fairly quiet day from a meteorological standpoint.